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Communities struggle to cope with monsoon flooding in Nepal

UNICEF Image: Nepal, flood
© UNICEF Nepal/2007/Chaudhari
A young girl seeks refuge under a makeshift shelter set up on a highway in Nepal’s Mahottari District.

By Rakesh Prasad Chaudhari and Rupa Joshi

JALESHWAR, Nepal, 9 August 2007 – A week ago, when it rained as if would never stop, 80 per cent of Mahottari District in the central Terai plains of Nepal was underwater. Floods had inundated 56 of the district’s 76 villages, displacing half the population of 600,000.

Among the displaced people still living on the Jaleshwar-Bardibas highway in Mahottari are 32 families from Gonarpura village. The villagers, mainly subsistence farmers from the marginalized Dalit community, took refuge on the relatively high and dry road that runs near their village.

Living under makeshift roofing made of plastic sheets, the families have been waiting for many days for relief to arrive.

Monu Sada, just two months old, is one of the youngest displaced children in the area. She has a raging fever. A dozen other children in the highway camp have fallen ill as well.

“We don’t even have a proper shelter,” says one displaced villager in frustration. “Forget about medications!”

Relief supplies arriving

The story of Gonarpura is the same for most villages in this district. Water from last week’s floods has slowly receded, enabling marooned villagers to move around. 

UNICEF Image: Nepal, flood
© UNICEF Nepal/2007/Pahari
As floodwaters recede, parents take their children back to school over a temporary bridge in Mahottari, Nepal.

Many are travelling to get relief supplies, which are finally trickling in through the Nepal Red Cross Society and other agencies. For its part, UNICEF has delivered oral rehydration salts to treat diarrhoeal dehydration, tarpaulins for shelter, buckets, blankets, hygiene kits and water purification supplies to aid flood victims in Nepal.

Other villagers are making trips to the health posts, hospital and medical camps organized by relief organizations.

Fear of waterborne diseases

Although the level of illness among children always peaks here in monsoon season, local health authorities say the increase this year is large: The number of babies, boys and girls now being brought to the hospital in Jaleshwar, the district headquarters, has increased by about 20 per cent.

Most of them are being treated for skin irritation, conjunctivitis, diarrhoea and dysentery. 

“There has been no outbreak of major diseases yet,” says District Health Officer Rajkishor Pandit. “But we have to be hyper-alert about waterborne diseases like typhoid, hepatitis and cholera, and later for other vector-borne diseases like malaria and kala-azar [a dangerous parasitic disease of the internal organs].

UNICEF Image: Nepal, flood
© UNICEF Nepal/2007/Chaudhari
Children affected by monsoon rains in Nepal fish in muddy and possibly contaminated waters.

“The water is dirty, so I fear for the health of the people who consume the fish from these dirty waters,” he added. 

Long road back to normalcy

Although the sun is shining now and transportation is limping back to normal, many health workers have yet to come back to their posts. A medical team from the Nepal Army examined 400 patients at Pipara village on 7 August and found them suffering from a host of skin, eye, diarrhoeal and respiratory diseases. About 30 per cent of the patients were young children.

Most of the district’s children will be going back to classes once the government schools reopen following the summer holidays. Private and community schools that shut down at the height of the floods have already begun to reopen.

Children are navigating over the bamboo and planks placed precariously over channels and rivulets to go to school.

The people of Mahottari District are glad that the rains have stopped, at least for now, but they know that the monsoon season is just halfway through. For the Dalit families and children taking shelter under flimsy plastic roofs on the highway, there is still a long road back to normalcy.



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